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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/9/09

The Gates Doctrine: Caveat Emptor

By Melvin A. Goodman  Posted by Marji Mendelsohn (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has learned very little from the military trials and tribulations of the United States over the past 50 years. During that period, the United States has lost three costly and avoidable wars in Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East. These wars involved U.S. military forces for more than 12 years in Vietnam, more than six years (and counting) in Iraq, and eight years (and counting) in Afghanistan.

Despite our military, intelligence, and technological superiority, we were stymied by two countries that had no air force, no navy, no army, no air defense. We were able to deploy weapons of great lethality, sophistication, maneuverability, and firepower. Nevertheless, Secretary Gates wants to reorient planning at the Pentagon so that the United States could be positioned to fight more such wars.   

Despite his previous lip service to ensure that the State Department and various civilian agencies get more involved in implementing American national security policy, Gates clearly wants the Pentagon to have pride of place in international areas outside the principal mission of military operations.  He wants to expand the military's role in equipping and training foreign forces, and for educating foreign officers. 

He also wants to expand the nation-building programs that grew out of our egregious experience in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, which the Obama administration seems to favor for our involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like his regional commanders, Gates seems to see the Pentagon as a "big Velcro cube that other agencies can hook to so we can collectively do what needs to be done" in such regional commands as the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Gates apparently would do nothing to reverse the trend of the recent past that allows general officers and particularly regional commanders to have more influence and leverage than their civilian counterparts in the implementation of American foreign policy.  

The emphasis on adding to the ranks of the Army, the Marine Corps, and special forces and greater spending on low-tech weapons that are best suited for guerrilla or irregular warfare points to continued problems for American national security. Gates explained that he is "just trying to get the irregular guys to have a seat at the table and to institutionalize the needs they have." Any shift in the direction of greater funding for such counter-insurgency operations as Iraq and Afghanistan is not encouraging. 

The United States (and the Western community in general) can point to very few military successes in such operations and run the risk of large-scale and long-term occupations. We invaded Iraq six years ago when there was no connection whatsoever between that country and U.S. national interest, and now we are committing greater forces and resources to Afghanistan where there is no connection to our vital interests. President Obama and Secretary Gates want to move in the direction of nation building, although there is no operational strategy for involving the State Department and the Agency for International Development in stabilization and reconstruction in troubled areas.

Some aspects of the Gates' doctrine are laudatory, particularly the decision to scale back spending on national missile defense; to create a professional procurement process; to cap production of the Air Forces' F-22 fighter jet; to cancel production of a new presidential helicopter; and to reduce the Army's Future Combat Systems. The effort to fix the procurement system is long overdue, and even Gates' two previous budgets were mere straight-line projections of Donald Rumsfeld's budgetary and procurement agenda. 

The Pentagon's weapons-procurement system has been a well-known disaster that presidential administrations and congressional committees have refused to address. In taking on the Pentagon's inability to make hard choices in weapons systems or to undertake major reform, Gates is taking on President Eisenhower's military-industrial-congressional complex.

A more promising development is in legislation sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), who want to create a director of independent cost assessments, who would have a senior staff with the authority to obtain data from weapons contractors and to ensure that costs are justified. The services, which are responsible for cost estimates on weapons programs, have never developed a professional staff to provide accurate cost estimates, let alone discipline profligate weapons manufacturers. 

Last year, according to the Washington Post, the Government Accountability Office reported that cost overruns on the largest weapons systems totaled about $300 billion.

Sadly, the Gates' doctrine still points to the United States as the "indispensable nation," in the words of former president Bill Clinton and his secretary of state Madeleine Albright, endowed by providence with unique responsibilities and obligations.

Gates and presumably President Obama want the United States to be able to respond to any and all crises, even those that have no relevance to American national interests, let alone vital national interests. Gates wants to maintain the offensive orientation of the Bush administration's foreign policy and obviously believes that American military power will preserve law and order. 

In his inaugural address, President Obama emphasized that "power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please." It does not appear that Obama's secretary of defense was listening.

Melvin A. Goodman,a regular contributor to The Public Record, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA."


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Marji Mendelsohn has been studying the effects of religion on politics and foreign policy with a secondary interest in election fraud.
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